The heart is everything. It is metaphor. It is physical. It is our greatest weakness and our greatest strength. It is the vital organ that keeps us alive. It is the key to our emotional selves. The heart symbolizes so much. It embodies our truths. It can be corrupted. It can be purified. The heart can be held captive. It can be set free. The heart is a sign of courage. It can mean loyalty. No other organ means so very much. The episode “Love Hurts,” captures this aspect extremely well---and in all the many facets that we see the heart used in story. It is physical, emotional, and spiritual. It also exposes a fundamental truth for the Winchesters---and in so doing shows the heart of their brotherhood beating as strong as ever.
The case itself sets so much of the stage. On its surface, it seems to be a shape-shifter with a sick fetish. A young babysitter is slaughtered on camera, her heart ripped clean from her chest. On the footage seen, the tell-tale flash of shape-shifter eyes flares. This, however, is not the case. Instead, a witch has harnessed the power of a qareen. She has unleashed the creature on a love-triangle and is watching them slowly kill each other off brutally. To do this, she must possess the qareen's heart. It doesn't have one as long as its master possesses it and can force them to do their bidding.
This is the first clear metaphor for how the heart is everything. The qareen is the one killing everyone in this episode, and yet it is as much the victim as those it slays. It is not the one doing this at its own behest. Instead, its heart is not its own. Its heart is being corrupted by this witch, Sonja, and her drive to punish cheating men---and the women who love them---for her own bitter and sick amusement. She is pouring her own heart's desire into this creature, making it feel her hate and her need to see others suffer such horrible ends. The ripping out of the heart of the victims is the secondary layer of metaphor. As she possesses the qareen's heart, the qareen will possess its victim's hearts, corrupting them with their own desires and turning them into weaknesses against them.
Here, heartache can become quite literal and dangerously deadly. The heart's secret desires are exposed and turned into weapons. The wife, Melissa, that started the curse here did so innocently. She didn't realize that what she had done was evil. She had simply exposed her heart to Sonja, telling her about her cheating husband and her desperate desire to win him back. All she had done was love her husband “perhaps a little too much.” Sonja, looking for a victim to unleash her qareen on, convinces her to use the spell as a “love spell” and that it will make her husband want her again. She used that emotional confession---that heart to heart in her hair salon---as a deadly weapon.
As the Winchesters start to investigate what is happening and why---and as they get their hands on Sonja's spell---they realize that this is a curse being passed around by a kiss. They realize that this curse will end with Melissa if they don't do something about it. It started with her and it intends on ending with her. As her already dead husband returns in the form of the qareen to kill her, she rushes to the Winchesters to get their help and they have to act fast if they are to save her from a brutal death. Just as it seems the qareen will not be deterred from its target, Dean does something impulsive: he kisses her.
In so doing, Dean takes on the curse, directing it at himself. He will not stand by and allow this creature to kill Melissa. He won't let her shoulder the burden. Even if she was the one that cast the original spell, it is still not her fault. She did not know. She did what she thought would bring her husband back, and she did it out of love. She didn't cast this spell maliciously. She had been lied to and her heart's desire had been twisted for Sonja's amusement. Dean, then, sees it as saving her from this---his chance to uphold the “saving people” aspect of the motto.
But he's also exposed his own heart---and the secrets that lie within.
Much like the qareen itself, Dean's heart is not his own. It's been taken and held captive by the Darkness since her release. Amara has determined that she should possess it and him. In so doing, she's gripped his heart in her hand and crushed it. Whenever she is near, Dean finds it impossible to resist or to follow through with killing her. Her power, as God's sister, is so great that it will make Dean waver and weaken just at the moment he would make his killing blow. This is her power. It is her doing. His heart's desire---whatever it truly may be---is now masked by what the Darkness wants Dean to feel about her. Whenever they are in proximity of one another, she exerts this power over him, squeezing his heart no differently than the qareen does its victim's as it rips their hearts out violently.
Dean's actual heart may be in his chest, still beating and functioning as the physical organ it is, but it should by all rights be locked in a box just like the qareen's.
This truth is thrust in Dean's face now that he has the curse placed upon him. As they prepare to stop the qareen, they go to Sonja's hair salon to find out where she's keeping the heart and the rest of the spell ingredients. Sam searches upstairs while Dean searches downstairs---after he wins for the first time in show history, a game of rock paper scissors that is. When he thinks Sam has returned downstairs with something, he is stunned to find Amara walking through the plastic door flaps.
Except the figure before him is not Amara. This is the curse exposing his heart's greatest secret. It is exposing his hidden desire. And yet, it is really only reflecting its truth that has now become Dean's truth: that neither of their hearts are their own. Just as Sonja owns the qareen's heart, Amara owns Dean's. It is a fact that shakes Dean to his core. Whatever he may truly desire without her hold on him is unknown---but it is most certainly not Amara.
Since the qareen is not Amara, she does not hold the same sway over Dean. He doesn't have to worry about hesitating in a struggle against it. He does not have to fight against emotional turmoil. Amara's hold may be so strong as to influence what he sees in this creature, but it is not strong enough to keep him from fighting back against an imitation. The qareen may chase him around, trying to rip his heart out and collect his tribute to the curse, but that doesn't mean it'll win.
When the qareen has been stopped and the witch, Sonja, lies dead, it allows the brothers to go back to their hotel room and pack up to leave for home once more. Dean has been so rattled by what happened. He knows now just how powerful Amara's hold is on him and it frightens him. He isn't in control of his own desire or his own heart. He knows that he's no different than the monster they stopped tonight. He, too, has lost his heart. It is captive in its own lock box being held against its will so another being can try and extract something from him for her own gain.
Amara's ambition and endgame still are not quite clear. What she needs Dean for in that scheme remains just as hidden. Amara has determined that she will collect from the elder Winchester at some point. She has told him that they are inevitable. She's declared them destiny. And yet she's had to do it by extracting the free will and the heart from Dean Winchester to do it.
The qareen had told him, “I can see inside your heart, feel the love you feel. Except, it's cloaked in shame. When it comes to this, you can't help yourself. So why fight it? Just give in.”
It is this statement, a parroting of Amara's actual words, that strikes home hardest for Dean. He has felt shame for what he's felt about Amara. He's been twisted around and turned upside down by their encounters. They've left him so befuddled in the past that he's been unable to form coherent thoughts or find the words himself to describe it. His conversation with Lucifer yielded the words---but the Devil himself had to feed them to him, even if he did appear to Dean as Castiel to do it. As much as Amara's grip has cost him and holds his heart captive, it is Dean's shame that may be the greater enslaver. He is so afraid and disgusted with himself for feeling these things that it makes him extremely vulnerable. It makes him vulnerable to this monster and it opens a gateway for Amara to dig deeper inside his heart and possess it all the more---all against his will.
And now Dean realizes just how costly her possession of his heart is truly becoming. It must mean that he's weak. It must mean that he's just as complicit as he sees the qareen. It means that he is someone that will commit evil in her name or become her slave willingly at some stage. He cannot stand against her and so he will become corrupted by her and do terrible things. If she truly is his hidden desire, that must mean that he wants to give in. After all, it's what he saw in the curse. It's what the qareen became as it went after him.
Dean, frightened by what it might mean and what might happen down the road when they finally can confront Amara, tells Sam, “Standing here right now? Every bone in my body wants to run her through, send her back to that hole she crawled out of. But when I'm near her---I don't know---something happens. I can't explain it. But to call it desire, love---it's not that. I'm screwed, man. We want to kill the Darkness. We need to kill the Darkness. And I don't think I can. I'm sorry to do that to you, you know? But when it comes down to it---,”
But Dean doesn't have to do this alone. He isn't standing against Amara by himself---just as he wasn't facing the qareen and Sonja alone. Dean will have his brother with him every step of the way.
In the end, that may be Amara's ultimate undoing.
Much as Sam had to cleanse his own heart when helping Eileen face down the banshee, he now has to help Dean do the same with Amara's hold on his heart. It will take a lot to do it. He will have to remain patient. He will have to recognize what is his brother's true heart and what is Amara's tampering. Sam will have to fight hard to free his brother from her hold. Standing with his brother as he does here, however, is a powerful start. His steadfast loyalty to and belief in Dean will be an invaluable weapon against the Darkness---and will become a key component in their efforts to defeat her. It is the very thing that will allow Dean to break free, cleansing his heart of her terrible power.
For this particular case, Sam can clearly see that Melissa's choice to use this spell was one made out of love. He doesn't condemn her for what she's done. This curse has already cost her everything and more. The husband she so desperately wanted back has been killed. Furthermore, now she has to endure the nightmare of seeing his very image used to commit evil against her. The love they must have shared at some point is further corrupted by the qareen's violence attacks. Melissa didn't mean for any of it to happen and yet she's paying the ultimate price in losing him all over again. And so, Sam won't judge her for her drive to use this spell. He gets it. This was a desperate act of a heartbroken woman who simply wanted what she once had back---her husband's heart.
Instead, he sees Sonja's corruption of the spell for what it is. This witch decided to play God with other people's lives. Sonja preys upon vulnerable women---all under the guise of a hairdresser. She gets them to let their guard down and waits for them to confess---as Melissa did---about an unfaithful man. Once she has that trust, she can lure her victims in with her dark magic. Sonja lies, telling these women that it is a love spell. She convinces them to use it to save their relationships only to sit back and watch as the creature she forces to do her bidding kills each person off one by one. It is a terrible and underhanded thing to do---corrupting the hearts of everyone involved for her sick amusement. Therefore, Sam knows that Sonja is the real culprit. He knows that she twists people's hearts against themselves. He knows that she holds a creature's heart hostage to do the dirty work for her. Sam knows that what is happening here begins and ends with her.
Melissa is heartbroken as they discover just what has happened---and how the witch crafted her spell. She says, “God. I killed Dan and Stacey.”
Sam gently tells a distraught Melissa, “ You didn't kill anyone. This is all on that witch.”
He also can see that his brother is teetering dangerously over an edge. His shock and exasperation at Dean's impulsive act taking on the curse says it all. He shouts at his brother, “Wait a second. You're serious? You think it's a good idea to give yourself a fatal curse? I'm just saying you don't have to do this---be the guinea pig, the martyr, try and carry the weight by yourself, do this.”
Sam isn't blind or oblivious to his brother's obvious struggle. He's been watching patiently and apprehensively throughout the season as they dig deeper into the Darkness and what she's after. He's observant enough to know that there's something between his brother and Amara. It's left Dean vulnerable---as he was facing the banshee---and so Sam is concerned when Dean chooses to take things like this new curse on alone. It risks too much.
And so, now Sam must do all he can to break this witch's spell. They have little time to argue about Dean's actions or methodology. If they don't move fast, not only will Dean die, but so will Melissa. After that, the witch will find a way to move on quickly and start the process over again with a new victim. The Winchesters can't allow that---and so they must fight through this first.
While Dean is trapped in the downstairs, playing a violent version of tag, Sam is confronting the witch and the qareen's heart box. He will stop this---and he will save both his brother and Melissa all in one go. It wouldn't do to save just Dean---not if Sam is truly committed to “saving people” in the motto. He must save both for this to have any real meaning. First, it means he'll have successfully saved his brother from another curse, but it'll also mean that he's freed another person without sacrificing them in the process.
And it will irrefutably prove Lucifer wrong.
The box, unsurprisingly, is locked. It'll take time---precious time---for Sam to unlock it. Even as quick as he is at lock-picking, it's not fast enough to open it and stab the heart inside through. This leaves Sonja with a window of opportunity to attack Sam. He is the real threat to her. After all, Melissa is already marked for death and Dean is too busy playing duck duck goose in the basement. Sam is the only thing standing in her way to exacting death on her victims.
It's telling that Sonja chooses to strangle Sam with magic rather than placing a similar curse on him. She could have had the curse transferred to Sam just as easily---all she'd need to do is have Melissa kiss Sam or vice versa. His heart would have been corrupted, then, just as everyone else's in the episode. Instead, she chooses to face Sam head on, binding him into a salon chair and choking him with her powers.
Mostly she does this for expediency, but it also may be due to the fact that Sam's heart wasn't vulnerable. After his ordeal with Lucifer and being forced to face his own heartbreak head on, Sam has already cleansed that portion of his heart. The vulnerability that Melissa carries---desiring a husband who no longer wanted her---and Dean's coerced bond with Amara does not apply to Sam. Cursing Sam wouldn't necessarily work the same way, and so Sonja must get rid of him quickly.
The scuffle, however, doesn't go her way. Once Melissa reveals herself, she distracts Sonja just enough. It allows Sam to shoot her, ending her threat.
Once her threat is over, Sam goes back to the heart inside the box. All it'll take is to slice it open and it'll be over. By destroying the heart it stops the qareen and it'll release his brother---and Melissa---from the curse. The action here, however, will have reverberations that go far beyond this singular moment. Sam's action may be a foreshadow of a final showdown between the Winchesters and Amara. He may be the one that strikes her down and therefore releases his brother's heart.
And yet, the best way for Sam to do that comes long before that showdown. After all, Sam knows his brother struggles with the hold Amara holds on him---even if he doesn't know the full truth of it yet.
Once the brothers are back in the hotel room, Sam does not judge his brother. He is patient and understanding as Dean opens up about what he's experiencing. He listens empathetically as Dean tells him just what he saw with the qareen and is fretting about what it might mean. He knows just what Dean's telling himself. The words he feeds---weak, complicit, evil---are all ones he knows his brother thinks endlessly but will not necessarily voice.
Sam simply tells Dean, “Dean, do you honestly think you ever had a choice in the matter? She's the sister of God. And for some reason she picked you, and that sucks, but if you think I'm gonna blame you or judge you, I'm not.”
This is the type of statement that Sam needed to make here more than ever. It is the very thing his brother needed to hear. If Dean has any hope of cleansing his heart of Amara's hold---either before or after they manage to defeat her---he will need to hear truths like this from his brother. Sam knows this as he's been in similar situations with Lucifer and Azazel. He understands how Dean feels about this and what it might mean about himself if he can't resist. After all, Sam's had the same thoughts and feelings about himself in the past. He's been there. He understands.
And so, when Dean tells him the truth that he can't follow through when the time comes---that he might not be able to kill Amara even though that's exactly what they intend to do, Sam simply says, “I got it, Dean.”
Sure, he means that he understands Dean's darkest confession, but he also means that he has his brother's back and he will stand with him against this. If need be, he's “got it,” and he'll do what must be done to free his brother from the Darkness---and in so doing perhaps the world.
The heart is everything. For the Winchesters, that heart is their brotherly bond. It is the ability they share in standing with one another, facing things like Amara down as a unit, and committing to “saving people, hunting things, family business” that is the heart of everything they do.
In the end, that's exactly what will allow them to free Dean's heart---making it his own again.